Thamestown is a copycat slice of England outside Shanghai. The thrown-up development echoes much of what has been happening across China in recent years and reveals the country’s insatiable desire to emulate the West in double-quick time.
Now, as growth in Europe and America grinds to a halt, China may be facing its first Western-style economic slowdown.
‘For China read UK’, says Philip Bintliff from West Yorkshire-based Studio BAAD, who has worked in China for many years.
‘Our Chinese colleagues confirm that they are beset with similar problems, with residential values down 15 per cent in Beijing and Shanghai since the Olympics.
‘Money supply for developers has tightened… and commercial and residential developments are languishing.’
According to Bintliff the future of schemes such as ChongMing Island – an eco-city in the Yangtze River, which the firm designed with Philip Johnson but is now being taken forward by SOM – and New Harbour City are in ‘serious doubt’.
Callum MacBean, managing director of Gensler’s Shanghai office also confirmed a number of its schemes had been put on hold and that clients backed by foreign investment money ‘were being a bit cautious’. Sources claim venture capital is heading for India and Vietnam instead.
However, MacBean says there is still work to be had, and the company has recently picked up a commission for a 632m-tall tower – China’s tallest – ahead of the likes of Foster + Partners.
He adds: ‘For UK architects wanting to work in China, people have not missed the boat. Perhaps China is three to four years behind the States, but [the economic situation] here is totally different.
‘Rather than looking at the whole country, the government [targets] certain areas, and its focus is now moving westwards.’
Jason Marriott, a managing principal at Woods Bagot’s Beijing Studio, said: ‘[The] government austerity measures are taking traction to slow the economy.
‘This will mean that fewer high residential and landmark building projects will be available, with an emphasis being placed on infrastructure, education and healthcare. In addition, the government is creating larger land parcels which will be increasingly difficult for smaller developers to purchase.’
This state-driven shift goes some way to explaining the apparent incongruity between recent headlines in the national press such as ‘Property Slump Fears as China’s Tallest Tower Opens’ and ‘Chinese Skyscraper Builders to put up Equivalent of 10 New Yorks’. Prospects differ wildly from city to city.
Andrew Bromberg, from Aedas’ Hong Kong office says: ‘The time for British architects has not passed… however in the more known and exciting cities of Shanghai and Beijing it may have.
‘Many felt Beijing was overbuilding prior to the Olympics. But in a country of one billion people there is bound to be a market. The work is now in second- and third-tier cities such as Chongqing and Chengdu.’